Healthy Relationships

Matthew 18:15-20

Jesus envisions a church with problems and friction. This is because in scripture, the church is referred to as a “body” and as a “family”. Physical bodies get sick – and real families occasionally have problems. When they occur, how should they be solved? In our text for today, Jesus gives practical teaching regarding this issue of healthy relationships within the family of God. It follows a step by step order, beginning with an individual conversation and concluding with a community decision.

Individual conversation

15 “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.

  • Take a risk to reach out to an offending sister or brother with honest communication – rather than harbor negative thoughts or gossip about the situation with others.
  • Keep it private – no need for public shaming or embarrassment
  • In many cases – this will result in success, and the relationship is healed.

A conversation with 2-3 witnesses present

16 But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that `every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 

  • Again, this is basically a private conversation
  • Based on old testament teaching – Deut. 19:15
  • Here, the emphasis is to protect and seek the truth with the help of a third party (2-3 witnesses) in order to avoid a “he said, she said” scenario.
  • Sometimes the original accuser will turn out to be in the wrong. Witnesses may actually help the accused.
  • Again, this will often result in understanding and a reconciled relationship.

A Community conversation

17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

What did it mean for Jesus to say “treat them like pagans and tax collectors?” We often see this as a command to reject them, or cut them off totally from fellowship. But all we have to do is remember how Jesus treated Gentiles and tax collectors and we’ll get the idea. He ate with Zaccheus, even visiting in his home. He healed the sick family members of several Gentiles. In other words, treat them as outside the family, but love them as Jesus loved Gentiles and tax collectors…seeking their reconciliation with the group even while sending them out. They are not being separated because they have sinned but because they refuse to admit their sin which the body has observed.

Again, this is not primarily a text on church discipline, as it has often been misunderstood. It is a description of body life and healthy relationships. When there is sickness (sin) in one body part, the whole body suffers. We are not just a collection of individuals – as our churches so often appear. We are a REAL family (the body of Christ) and therefore for the sake of the entire body, we need to take healthy relationships seriously.

The importance of being connected – of being a “body”

19 “Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.”

  • It’s in our connectedness – our life together – where Jesus promises to be present with us.

As I’ve reflected on this short text during the past few days it seems to me that there are really four key elements described here that allow us to follow Jesus’ advice. The first comes from the beginning of chapter 18. The final three all come from today’s verses.

  • Humility and powerlessness of a child  (Verse 1-4) What would it look like if all of our conversations began from a place of mutual humility?
  • Honest communication   (Verse 15)  Take a risk! It’s scary to confront someone with an uncomfortable conversation – but worth it!
  • Community (Verse 16 )  This kind of healthy relationship can only happen within a committed community.
  • The power of Jesus in their midst. (Verse 20) A promise to all who claim the name of Jesus – that we are not left to manage this alone!

The Goal?  Healthy relationships resulting from repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation!

Could this advice and direction from our Lord be more timely and crucial than it is today? In an age of social media where truth appears to be anything we wish it to be – these crucial guidelines and practical teachings on honest communication could be life-saving. May God grant us the wisdom and grace to put them into practice!

(the above is a summary of the message shared during our JCC Zoom Worship time on September 6, 2020)